Nursing students' project may have statewide effect

Post-Tribune correspondent
HAMMOND -- Nursing students at Purdue University Calumet are learning much more than taking temperatures and the procedures for keeping records.

The 35 students in Gail Wegner's Capstone Course in Nursing are participating in a pilot experiential learning program, mandatory before receiving their nursing bachelor's degrees in May.

The experiential learning component of the curriculum was instituted last fall.

"It is a combination of service learning and a project-based practicum based on a selected design project," Wegner said. "There are two parts to the class -- 30 hours of volunteer work and 60 hours of group project work."

The project-based practicum involves collaboration with a health care agency representative and a nursing faculty member.

The class projects, which came from a list comprised of "wants and needs" of area healthcare facilities, were divided among the students. The topics of the assignments varied from implementing a hospital bereavement program to researching an alcohol withdrawal protocol on a hospital medical/surgical unit, with much in between.

One unique project involved coordination of colored wristbands within all area hospitals.

Currently, five colors of wristbands are used in medical care facilities -- green, yellow, red, purple and pink. The problem lies with the designation of each color. Not all hospitals designate the same colors for the same identification.

According to some hospital employees, this can cause serious consequences. For example, one hospital may use a yellow wristband to designate allergies, but if a patient with a yellow wristband is transferred to another hospital, that facility may use yellow for a different condition.

While doing research, the nursing student team talked with representatives of the Indiana Hospital Association. This association took an interest in the project and asked the students to keep them informed of the project's status.

They did so, and sent a copy of the completed project to the IHA. 

In return, the IHA asked permission to use some of the material on a project they were developing.

The students gladly gave their approval.

"We didn't think (our research) would go this far," team member Ashley Canon of Schererville said. "Our goal was just to make our graduation requirements, but it turned into a great opportunity (with the IHA)."

Fellow team member Jessica Langlois was excited when the IHA contacted her after the team sent a "tool kit" (research findings and solution) to them.

"I was ecstatic. Originally, we called the IHA association just to develop a source," she said. "We were surprised when they acted very interested in what we were doing. 

"It's exciting to know that four nursing students could help develop a statewide initiative to increase patient safety."

Purdue Cal undergraduate students in nursing must complete two experiential learning courses before receiving their diplomas.

These can take the form of internships, cooperative education, applied research with faculty, study abroad, design projects or community service learning.